Patrick Svitek

US Rep. Louie Gohmert joins Texas Republicans running against Attorney General Ken Paxton

Nov. 22, 2021

"U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert joins Texas Republicans running against Attorney General Ken Paxton" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, announced Monday he is running for attorney general, challenging fellow Republican Ken Paxton, in the already crowded primary.

"Texas I am officially running to be your next Attorney General and will enforce the rule of law," Gohmert tweeted after announcing his campaign on Newsmax.

Gohmert announced earlier this month that he would join the GOP lineup against Paxton if he could raise $1 million in 10 days. The 10th day was Friday. Gohmert said in an announcement video that he has “reached our initial goal of raising $1 million in order to start a run for” attorney general, though he did not confirm whether he was able to collect it in 10 days.

Gohmert is at least the fourth primary opponent that Paxton has drawn. The others have included Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and state Rep. Matt Krause of Fort Worth. At least three Democrats are also running for the job.

However, shortly after Gohmert's announcement Monday evening, Krause said he was leaving the primary to instead run for Tarrant County district attorney. Krause said he planned to support Gohmert for attorney general.

The race has attracted intense interest due to Paxton's legal problems, which include a 2015 securities fraud indictment that remains pending. Paxton has also come under FBI investigation over claims by former top staffers that he abused his office to help a wealthy donor. He has denied wrongdoing in both cases. Gohmert has latched on to those legal issues, warning they could cause Paxton to lose the general election.

In the announcement video, Gohmert called "election integrity" a priority of his campaign and criticized Paxton, saying he only "started working harder" after the allegations by his former lieutenants.

"If you allow me, I will not wait to be my busiest until after there's some bad press about illegal improprieties," Gohmert said. "I'll start boldly protecting your rights on Day 1."

Paxton's campaign had no comment on Gohmert's announcement.

Gohmert was originally scheduled to announce his decision Friday on Mark Davis' radio show in Dallas, but he never called in and the show went off air without hearing from him. He also kept the political world in suspense Monday, tweeting in the morning that he would release an announcement video "later today." It was not until after 7:30 p.m. that he announced his decision — and first on Newsmax, the conservative outlet, before releasing the video as promised.

Gohmert is one of the most far-right members of Congress and an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed Paxton for another term. After Trump lost reelection last year, Gohmert filed a long-shot lawsuit asking former Vice President Mike Pence to challenge Joe Biden’s legitimacy as president-elect. When a federal court dismissed the suit, he appeared to suggest violence in response, which he later denied.

Gohmert has downplayed the deadly riot that broke out at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the building. Gohmert also has sought — unsuccessfully — to visit the defendants from the riot in jail.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/11/18/louie-gohmert-texas-attorney-general-ken-paxton/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Beto O’Rourke says he’s running for Texas governor

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Nov. 15, 2021

"Beto O'Rourke says he's running for Texas governor" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Beto O'Rourke is running for governor, challenging Republican Greg Abbott in a clash of two of Texas' biggest politicians.

“I'm running to serve the people of Texas, and I want to make sure that we have a governor that serves everyone, helps to bring this state together to do the really big things before us and get past the small, divisive politics and policies of Greg Abbott," O'Rourke said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “It is time for change."

The former El Paso congressman, 2018 U.S. Senate nominee and 2020 presidential contender said he was running for governor to improve public schools, health care and jobs in Texas. But O'Rourke also took sharp aim at Abbott's record, citing new laws he backed this year that ban most abortions in Texas, tighten voting rules and allow permitless carry of handguns. He also criticized Abbott over the February power grid failure that left most of the state without electricity in subfreezing temperatures and his response to the coronavirus pandemic that has recently been focused on fighting vaccine and mask mandates.

In a video announcing his campaign Monday morning, O'Rourke focuses heavily on the grid failure, saying Texans were "abandoned by those who were elected to serve and look out for them." O'Rourke said in the interview that Abbott “has stopped listening to and trusting the people of Texas."

“He doesn't trust women to make their health care decisions, doesn't trust police chiefs when they tell him not to sign the permitless carry bill into law, he doesn't trust voters so he changes the rules of our elections, and he doesn't trust local communities," O'Rourke said, referring to Abbott's policies preventing local officials from making their own pandemic rules.

O'Rourke's decision to enter the race ends months of speculation and gives Democrats a formidable campaigner at the top of the ticket — someone who transformed Texas politics with his blockbuster campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. The clock has been ticking, with the candidate filing deadline for the March 2022 primary less than a month away.

Abbott's campaign reacted to O'Rourke's launch by yoking him to President Joe Biden, releasing an animated image of O'Rourke morphing into Biden.

"The last thing Texans need is President Biden's radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O'Rourke," Abbott campaign spokesperson Mark Miner said in a statement. "The contrast for the direction of Texas couldn't be clearer."

Abbott has already been campaigning against O'Rourke as too liberal for Texas, branding him “Wrong Way O'Rourke" and seizing on multiple positions he has taken since last running statewide. At the top of the list is O'Rourke's proposal to require buybacks of assault weapons during his presidential campaign. That led to a memorable moment on the debate stage in which O'Rourke proclaimed that, “Hell yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."

O'Rourke said he was not backing away from that proposal in his latest campaign.

“I think most Texans can agree — maybe all Texans can agree — that we should not see our friends, our family members, our neighbors, shot up with weapons that were originally designed for use on a battlefield," said O'Rourke, whose hometown of El Paso was the site of an anti-Latino mass shooting in 2019 by a gunman who killed 23 people.

The gubernatorial race marks O'Rourke's third campaign in as many election cycles — and it is unfolding in a much different context than his first statewide run three years ago. He is now well-known to Texas voters, and polls show more voters have a negative opinion of him than a positive one. The national environment is also working against him this time, with President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, deeply unpopular in Texas.

While Abbott's approval rating has sunk to its lowest levels since he first became governor in 2014, O'Rourke starts as an underdog. The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found O'Rourke trailing Abbott by 9 percentage points.

Asked how he was approaching this campaign compared to the 2018 one, O'Rourke said he would be taking his cues from Texans.

“A big lesson that I take from anything I've been a part of that's been successful is you gotta keep the focus on people," O'Rourke said. “And if this becomes about a single candidate or political party instead of the people of Texas, it's just not gonna work."

But O'Rourke is changing up at least a couple of tactics for the race.

This time he said he plans to run ads that draw a contrast with Abbott, something he did not do against Cruz until the final weeks of the race. O'Rourke also suggested he is open to using polling — which he eschewed in 2018 — to “make informed decisions about where we deploy resources," while insisting he would never use polling to tailor his message.

Unlike when O'Rourke ran for U.S. Senate and was subject to federal campaign finance laws, O'Rourke faces no contribution limits at the state level. He has long crusaded against the big money in politics, making his refusal to accept political action committee money a cornerstone of his campaigns. But he confirmed he would accept unlimited donations as allowed under state law, saying he did not want to “run this campaign with a hand tied behind our backs."

“Having said that, you will not see anything like what Greg Abbott has done in terms of coming very close to the line of open corruption," O'Rourke said, pointing to the $1 million donation that Abbott got from Dallas pipeline mogul Kelcy Warren in the months following the grid failure that his company profited from.

As for Biden, O'Rourke did not express any concerns when asked about the impact of the president's unpopularity on the gubernatorial contest. O'Rourke said he was grateful for things the president has gotten done that benefit Texas, like the latest portion of federal COVID-19 recovery funds and the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that Biden is set to sign into law Monday.

“I will partner with anyone, anywhere, anytime — regardless of political party or position of power they may hold — to make sure that we make progress here in Texas," O'Rourke said.

Miner, the Abbott spokesperson, made clear the governor's campaign will be putting Biden front and center in the race.

"From Beto O'Rourke's reckless calls to defund the police to his dangerous support of the Biden Administration's pro-open border policies, which have resulted in thousands of fentanyl deaths, Beto O'Rourke has demonstrated he has more in common with President Biden than he does with Texans," Miner said.

At least two other Democrats are running for governor. They include Michael Cooper, the president of the Beaumont NAACP who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, and Deirdre Gilbert, an educator from the Houston area.

Abbott is navigating his own spirited primary as he pursues a third term, facing at least three challengers from his right. They are former Dallas state Sen. Don Huffines, conservative commentator Chad Prather and former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West.

O'Rourke burst on to the statewide political scene in 2018 with his star-making challenge to Cruz. He toured all of Texas' 254 counties and smashed fundraising records, gained national attention and ultimately finished 3 percentage points behind Cruz.

Months later, O'Rourke jumped into the presidential contest, joining a crowded primary for the chance to take on then-President Donald Trump. His campaign struggled to break out of the back of the pack for most of his time running.

The El Paso shooting reinvigorated O'Rourke and brought a new urgency to his campaign, but it was not enough. He dropped out of the race weeks later as he was running low on money and grappling with potentially missing the cut for an upcoming debate.

O'Rourke wasted little time reengaging in state politics. He resisted encouragement to pivot to challenging U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and instead formed a political action committee, Powered by People, to help Texas Democrats in the 2020 election.

O'Rourke popped up in the presidential primary again that March, endorsing Biden at a Dallas rally on the eve of the state's nominating contest. Biden ended up winning the Texas primary as part of a sweep of the Super Tuesday states that propelled him on a path to the nomination.

For the rest of the 2020 election cycle, O'Rourke and his group focused mainly on Democrats' fight to capture the state House majority. They came up woefully short, failing to net a single seat.

O'Rourke was back in the public spotlight in February, amid the winter weather crisis that left millions of Texans without power and hundreds dead. He used his platform to fundraise for relief efforts and traveled the state volunteering for the recovery.

Over the summer, O'Rourke became a leading figure in Texas Democrats' push for federal voting rights legislation. While Democrats in the Texas House broke quorum over Abbott's priority elections bill and went to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress for help, O'Rourke crisscrossed Texas to build public pressure for federal legislation.

However, Democrats were not successful on either the state or federal levels. The state House Democrats eventually returned to Austin to allow Republicans to pass their restrictive elections legislation, while Congress still has not sent a voting rights bill to Biden's desk.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/11/15/beto-orourke-texas-governor-2022/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas Democrats say House Republicans cheated to get quorum

"Texas House finally makes quorum, but Democrats say Republicans cheated to get there" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas House Republicans finally got their long-sought quorum Thursday — by the skin of their teeth.

There were 99 members registered as present Thursday evening, the exact number needed to end the 38-day Democratic quorum break over the GOP's priority elections bill. But it quickly became clear that some of the 99 members were not physically on the floor and instead marked present by their colleagues.

That means that the House could be operating with a tenuous quorum in the coming days, even if more Democrats start returning — though none were giving any indication of that Friday.

While some Democrats conceded Thursday night that the quorum bust was over, others were less willing to admit defeat.

“Based on numerous media reports, it seems evident there was not a true quorum present today — ironic, given this entire session is premised around Republicans preaching about so-called voter integrity," Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement.

A group of 34 House Democrats released a statement Friday that called it a “questionable quorum" and warned that Republicans “will lie about the number of legislators present at the Capitol to establish quorum, keep Texans in the dark, and bend the rules to get their way."

In a follow-up interview, Turner said the apparent lack of a real quorum was “of grave concern." He declined to speculate on whether the Democratic presence on the floor would grow when the House nexts meets on Monday.

Publicly, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beamont, is not showing any concern over the durability of the quorum going forward.

“Speaker Phelan appreciates the growing number of members who are fighting for their districts in the State Capitol," Phelan spokesperson Enrique Marquez said in a one-sentence statement for this story.

It is certainly possible that enough Democrats return to the floor in the near future that any uncertainty over the threshold is put to rest. The next opportunity for any returning Democrat to show up is when the House meets next at 4 p.m. Monday.

The first Democrat quorum bust happened in the final hours of the regular session in May, when members filed out of the chamber to block the final passage of a GOP voting bill. They upped the ante in July when more than 50 members boarded a plane and fled to Washington, D.C., for the duration of the first special session and continued to refuse to show up at the Capitol for the first few weeks of the second special session, which began Aug. 7.

The GOP elections bill would, among other things, outlaw local voting options intended to expand voting access and bolster access for partisan poll watchers. Democrats and voting rights advocates say it restricts voting rights in the state. Republicans, who control both chambers of the Legislature, say the proposal is intended to secure “election integrity."

One of the Democrats who is still in Washington, D.C., Rep. Ron Reynolds of Missouri City, said he anticipates that “maybe half" of the remaining Democrats will return to the floor in the coming days while he and others will remain in Washington to continue their fight for federal voting rights legislation.

“I'm very disappointed," Reynolds said. “We're disappointed that we had some members of the Democratic caucus return without a consensus, without a unified front."

Reynolds said he intends to stay in the nation's capital at least through next week, when the U.S. House is expected to vote on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. He is still deciding what to do after that.

If the quorum margin continues to remain on the razor's edge, Republicans cannot afford to have any absences and would have to continue showing up unanimously or close to it. They proved they were willing to go to those lengths Thursday with the attendance of Rep. Steve Allison of San Antonio, who recently tested positive for COVID-19 and registered as present while isolating in an adjacent room.

Allison tested negative Thursday and plans to be on the floor Monday and the following days that lawmakers are in session, according to his chief of staff, Rocky Gage.

The House can't do business without a quorum, which is two-thirds of the chamber, a threshold that stands at 100 when all 150 seats are filled. With two vacant seats pending special elections to replace former state Reps. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, who is now in Congress, and Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, who resigned effective Thursday to work for San Antonio College, quorum threshold is currently 99.

The special election for Ellzey's seat is Aug. 31, though it could go to a runoff at a later date. And the special election for Pacheco's seat has not been scheduled yet.

The 99 members who effectively make up the current quorum include all 82 Republicans; 14 Democrats who, before Thursday, had never broken quorum or had already chosen to return to the floor; and three new Democratic defectors who announced their arrival shortly before quorum was met Thursday evening: Houston Reps. Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez and Garnet Coleman.

Without a mass return of the remaining Democrats, reaching a quorum in the coming days could still be a dicey proposition.

That is, of course, if House leaders actually count how many members are physically present — something they have no incentive to do as they seek to put the quorum break in the past. Any member present can request “strict enforcement" of a vote, which would force a more accurate attendance count, but that did not happen Thursday.

“Who is asking for strict enforcement?" one of the Democrats still breaking quorum, Rep. Michelle Beckley of Carrollton, tweeted shortly before the House met and quorum was established.

It is unclear what incentive the members who are showing up have to call for strict enforcement — they are mostly Republicans who are eager to get back to work and move past the quorum break. The same could arguably be said of the Democrats who have been present.

Reynolds said he is optimistic that as the Democratic numbers on the floor continue to grow, there will be more potential for strict enforcement.

“We were disappointed that didn't happen yesterday," Reynolds said. “But hopefully, as we go forward as a group, some of the returning members will agree to do that. I think there's already been a consensus of the members that are returning that are willing to do that."

Disclosure: San Antonio College has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/20/texas-house-quorum-democrats/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Gov. Greg Abbott says he'll solicit individuals for donations to fund his plan for a border wall

"Gov. Greg Abbott says he'll solicit individuals for donations to fund his plan for a border wall" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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When Gov. Greg Abbott announced last week that Texas would build its own border wall, one of the immediate questions was who would pay for it.

Abbott has not fully detailed the plan yet, but he said in a podcast interview released Tuesday that the state will be soliciting donations from across the country to help fund the wall.

“When I do make the announcement later on this week, I will also be providing a link that you can click on and go to for everybody in the United States — really everybody in the entire world — who wants to help Texas build the border wall, there will be a place on there where they can contribute," Abbott said on the podcast, a show about Republican politics called “Ruthless."

Abbott made national headlines with his announcement Thursday in Del Rio that Texas would build its own wall at the Mexico border, though he provided no further details and said he would lay out the plan this week.

In the meantime, Abbott has faced threats of legal action and a bevy of questions about where, when and how such a wall could be constructed.

Abbott said in the podcast interview that the donations to Texas' border wall will go to a fund “overseen by the state of Texas in the governor's office." He promised “great transparency," saying “everyone will know every penny in, every penny out, but the sole purpose for those funds will be going to build the border wall."

Abbott's plan would not be the first attempt to crowdfund a border wall. There was We Build The Wall, a private fundraising effort that raised more than $25 million after originally planning to construct 3 miles of fence posts in South Texas. Last year, four people involved in We Build The Wall — including Steve Bannon, the former adviser to President Donald Trump — were charged with allegedly defrauding donors to the effort. Trump pardoned Bannon before leaving office in January.

A closer parallel to Abbott's plan may date to 2011, when the Arizona Legislature passed a law establishing a fund, complete with a fundraising website, to construct a fence along the state's border with Mexico. The fund received almost $270,000 by 2014, and a state border security advisory committee decided to give most of the sum to a county sheriff in 2015. The sheriff instead invested the money in border security technology such as GPS systems and binoculars, according to the Arizona Republic.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/15/texas-border-wall-greg-abbott/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Allen West resigns as chair of Texas Republican Party

"Allen West resigns as chair of Texas Republican Party" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas GOP Chairman Allen West announced his resignation Friday morning, raising speculation he could run for statewide office.

West, who has been in charge of the party for shy of a year, will remain chair until a successor is picked on July 11, the party said.

“It has been my distinct honor to serve as Chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. I pray Godspeed for this governing body," he said in a statement.

The party said that West “will take this opportunity to prayerfully reflect on a new chapter in his already distinguished career."

West has not ruled out challenging Gov. Greg Abbott, and he has also had tension recently with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

The state office for Land Commissioner is also an open seat this election season now that incumbent commissioner George P. Bush has announced he's running for attorney general.

A former Florida congressman who moved to Texas several years ago, West took over the party last summer, unseating incumbent James Dickey. He quickly made a name for himself for his willingness to speak out against fellow Republicans, including Abbott, whose coronavirus response he criticized.

West used the latest legislative session to push hard for the party's eight legislative priorities, and he has spent recent days lamenting the lack of progress that lawmakers have to show on them.

West is set to appear at a news conference at 10:30 a.m. in Whitehouse, near Tyler, to discuss the session.

Abbott has already drawn a primary challenge from former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas. In addition to West, Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller could also take on Abbott. On Tuesday, Abbott was endorsed for reelection by former President Donald Trump.

Abbott is not the only statewide official with whom West has butted heads. Toward the end of the session, he put pressure on Patrick, the presiding officer, to pass a House-approved bill allowing permitless carry of handguns, questioning Patrick's commitment to the cause and alleging the Senate added "poison-pill amendments." Patrick eventually wrangled the votes, he got the bill through the Senate and it is now on its way to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for his signature.

Without naming West, Patrick said in a statement at one point after the bill passed the Senate that those who claimed the Senate-amended bill was in peril "willfully misled many Second Amendment supporters in Texas."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/06/04/texas-allen-west-republican-resigns/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vows to defund state Legislature after voting restrictions bill fails

May 31, 2021

"Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vows to defund state Legislature after voting restrictions bill fails, threatening salaries" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday he would veto the section of the state budget that funds the Legislature hours after a Democratic walkout killed his priority elections bill.

“No pay for those who abandon their responsibilities," Abbott said in a tweet. “Stay tuned."

Late Sunday night, enough Democrats left the House to break a quorum and block passage of the elections bill, Senate Bill 7, before a midnight deadline. Calling the bill's failure “deeply disappointing," Abbott quickly made clear he would call a special session to get it passed, though he has not specified a timeline.

Abbott's tweet referred to Article X of the budget, which pays not only lawmakers and staff but also funds legislative agencies, such as the Legislative Budget Board. Under the current budget, the legislative branch is funded through the end of August, and the budget Abbott is referring to covers the fiscal year starting Sept. 1.

Abbott has until June 20 to carry out the veto.

State lawmakers are paid $600 a month, equal to $7,200 per year. They also get a per diem of $221 for every day they are in session, including both regular and special sessions.

Democratic legislators quickly criticized Abbott's veto announcement.

“This would eliminate the branch of government that represents the people and basically create a monarchy," state Rep. Donna Howard of Austin tweeted.

SB 7 was one of Abbott's emergency items, as was another proposal that died Sunday that would have made it harder for people arrested to bond out of jail without cash.

Abbott's tweet came minutes before the House adjourned sine die, finishing its regular session. In remarks from the dais, GOP Speaker Dade Phelan acknowledged lawmakers had unfinished business.

“We will be back — when, I don't know, but we will be back," Phelan told members. “There's a lot of work to be done, but I look forward to doing it with every single one of you."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/05/31/texas-greg-abbott-funding-legislature/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Leadership tensions, potential special session loom as Texas legislative session hits uncertain end

The 2021 Texas legislative session is heading into its final weekend fraught with uncertainty and tension between the two chambers that could lead to a special session.

After three of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's priorities effectively died Tuesday night in the House, the Senate presiding officer called for a special session to pass them, jolting the final several days of a session that was already on track to be the most conservative in recent memory. The last day of the session is Monday, and procedural deadlines have been increasingly cutting off opportunities to hash out key issues.

In some ways, it is a familiar story from past sessions: Tensions between the two chambers are peaking, and Patrick is putting pressure on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session for unfinished business on conservative priorities. Patrick got his way in 2017, forcing a special session in an ultimately failed push to pass legislation to regulate bathroom use by transgender people.

Patrick specifically wants a June special session — prior to the special session that Abbott is widely expected to call this fall to address redistricting and COVID-19 relief funds. Abbott indicated Wednesday he was not immediately on board with Patrick's demand, and he put a finer point on his resistance Thursday afternoon during an unrelated news conference in Fort Worth.

"That's pretty goofy because everybody knows there's only one person with the authority to call a special session, and that's the governor," Abbott said of Patrick's push for a special session, adding that those agitating for a special session should be careful what they wish for.

During special sessions, lawmakers are only allowed to consider legislation on subjects selected by the governor. Abbott said that if he initiates a special session, he would not load up the agenda with multiple items for lawmakers to address at once but would "go one item at a time."

"So if anyone tries to hold hostage this legislative session to force a special session," Abbott said, "that person will be putting their members, in the Senate or the House, potentially into a special session for another two years because I'm gonna make sure that we get things passed, not just open up some debating society."

Patrick appeared caught off-guard by Abbott's "goofy" comment later Thursday, asking a TV interviewer multiple times if the governor had really said it. Patrick went on to say it was "not goofy" to request a special session, arguing it was the only option left to him at this point in the session, despite Abbott's insistence that there is still time to salvage the three items.

Also in TV interviews Thursday afternoon, Patrick denied that the Senate was purposely sitting on legislation to trigger a special session. Speculation ramped up around that possibility overnight when the Senate missed a deadline to consider a seemingly must-pass bill to extend the life of state agencies.

"I support the governor but I'm pointing out that, and clearly he's the person that can call it, only person, but I have a right and so does everyone else to ask him to call it and that's what I'm doing," Patrick told Spectrum News in Austin. "And there was a reference about holding hostage, I'm not holding anything hostage."

At the Fort Worth news conference, Abbott insisted he "strongly" supports the three incomplete priorities that prompted Patrick's call for a special session: Punishing social media companies for "censoring" Texans based on their political viewpoints, outlawing transgender students from playing on sports teams based on their gender identity and banning taxpayer-funded lobbying. The issues cap a session that has already seen a slew of long-sought wins for conservative activists, including permitless carry of handguns and a "heartbeat" bill that could ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Despite the high-stakes staredown with Patrick, Abbott downplayed any perceived disunity among the state's leaders, saying the back and forth was to be expected in the final days of a session.

"If the leaders in the Legislature will stop fighting with each other and start working together," Abbott said in Fort Worth, "we can get all of this across the finish line."

Abbott and Patrick traded comments as lawmakers Thursday afternoon sent Abbott a roughly $248 billion spending plan for the state for the next two years, which is the only legislation constitutionally required to pass during a regular session.

But the comments between the two also came after tensions had been simmering inside each chamber for days. Last Thursday, the House stopped work for the week out of frustration that the Senate wasn't passing enough of its priority bills.

Patrick hardly concealed his disdain for the House in remarks to the senators from the dais on Wednesday night, speaking hours after his special session demand.

"As you all know, the House was not here Friday," Patrick said. "The House was not here Saturday. The House has already quit for today. So we're working hard, we're passing bills— they weren't here for two days in the last five. They're gone now. They killed key bills of yours last night, because they weren't here."

The Senate ended up working hours past midnight Wednesday.

As the senators worked, House Speaker Dade Phelan attempted to enter the chamber to watch proceedings but was denied entry because he did not have a wristband proving he had tested negative for the coronavirus, as Quorum Report first reported. Members, staff and the general public have been required to have a negative COVID-19 test before entering the chamber floor or gallery as part of the Senate's pandemic protocols that have been in place throughout session.

Phelan " is always welcome in the TxSenate and was not denied entry [tonight]," the lieutenant governor's office tweeted early Thursday morning. "Messengers offered to get him a wristband, but the Speaker declined and left."

In a jab at the Senate later that morning, Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican and top lieutenant of the speaker, rattled off statistics comparing the number of House bills and Senate bills the two chambers have taken action on in a series of questions from the chamber's back microphone.

Is it true, Burrows asked Phelan, that "less than 50% of the House bills that we sent over were passed by the Senate, are you aware of that?"

"The chair is not advised," the speaker replied.

"By comparison," Burrows said, "of those bills considered and passed, is it true that we passed 75% of the Senate bills sent over to us?"

"75% is a lot of Senate bills and sounds accurate, Mr. Burrows," Phelan said.

Burrows' line of questioning seemed to reflect the frustration felt by some House members such as Rep. James White, a Hillister Republican, who told the Tribune on Thursday that the Senate had not yet acted on three of his legislative priorities for the session.

White, who chairs the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, said his committee "did not delay one damn Senate bill" this session.

"Tension is good sometimes," White said. "We're all working hard, and I'm proud of the work my committee did."

Other House members were not afraid to take shots at the Senate on Thursday, including Rep. Lyle Larson, a San Antonio Republican.

"The GOP senate bashing the GOP house last night for not working late," Larson tweeted, referring to Patrick's comments made in the Senate the night before. "DP Ego .. ugh."

House Democrats had been most focused on killing Senate Bill 29, which would require transgender student athletes to play on sports teams based on their sex assigned at birth instead of their gender identity. Waving blue and pink transgender pride flags, Democrats celebrated when the midnight deadline to pass the bill came before a vote had been held.

In a radio interview the next morning, one Senate Republican vowed that the issue of transgender student athletes would remain front and center.

"It's not going away," Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills said, speaking minutes before Patrick issued his call for a special session. "You can delay this, but this is not going away."

Abbott has not been outspoken about bills targeting transgender youth this session, though he said during a Fox News appearance last month that he would sign a bill like SB 29.

Like in 2017, Abbott again finds himself facing intraparty pressure to call a special session ahead of a reelection year. This time, though, Abbott is facing more opposition from his right: He has already drawn a primary challenger in former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, and Texas GOP Chairman Allen West and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller have not ruled out bids against Abbott.

Huffines said Wednesday he backed "calls for an imminent special session," while West voiced support for a special session as long as it addresses the state party's legislative priorities. One of those priorities is abolishing taxpayer-funded lobbying.

Miller, meanwhile, said in an email to supporters Wednesday that a special session to pass Patrick's three unfinished priorities "now looks likely."

Top political aide to Texas agriculture commissioner arrested in scheme to take money in exchange for hemp licenses

"Top political aide to Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller arrested in alleged scheme to take money in exchange for hemp licenses" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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The top political consultant to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was arrested Thursday on allegations that he participated in a scheme to solicit money and campaign contributions for state hemp licenses issued by Miller's Texas Department of Agriculture.

The consultant, Todd Smith, ultimately took $55,000 as part of the scheme, an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by The Texas Tribune says. Smith and others involved in the scheme are alleged in the warrant to have solicited a total of $150,000 to guarantee a license, including a $25,000 upfront cost for a survey that they said was required to get a license in Texas. Some of the money would also go toward funding unnamed political campaigns, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit alleges that Smith committed third-degree felony theft.

Reference

Read the affidavit against Todd Smith here.

(2.7 MB)

“Todd Smith created by words and his conduct, a false impression of fact that affected the judgment of others in the transactions to obtain a hemp license and/or conduct a survey that was never attempted by Todd Smith," the affidavit says.

Smith did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Friday morning. Miller told the Tribune on Friday afternoon that he "had no idea" about the alleged scheme.

"That was Todd, between him and his clients," Miller said, adding that he would reserve judgment until he could learn more about the situation.

Miller noted, however, that hemp licenses are not particularly expensive for those who want them, with farmers having to pay $100 for a one-year license.

Smith's arrest was part of an ongoing investigation by the Texas Rangers' Public Integrity Unit, which is responsible for looking into claims of public corruption.

“This matter is being investigated by the Texas Rangers on behalf of the Department of Public Safety in collaboration with the Travis County District Attorney's office," Travis Considine, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said in a statement Friday afternoon. "Our offices will be keeping the community updated as more information becomes available."

Smith was arrested Thursday and booked into Travis County jail at 9:23 p.m., according to Kristen Dark, a spokesperson for the county sheriff's office. Smith was released at 2:59 a.m. Friday on a personal recognizance bond. Bail was set at $10,000.

The affidavit says Smith used another person as a middle man between himself and those interested in getting licenses. The affidavit does not provide much information about the middle man other than that he was “introduced to Todd Smith by a friend in August 2019."

The affidavit includes the account of one man who wanted to get involved in the hemp industry and met the middle man at a social gathering in August 2019. The affidavit says the middle man told the license-seeker that he was “working directly with senior leadership at the TDA" and that he “needed $150,000.00 in cash, with some of the money going toward campaign contributions, in order to receive the 'guaranteed' hemp license."

The license-seeking man agreed to the deal, setting off a chain of events that included a November 2019 visit to Austin where he handed the middle man $30,000 cash in a car outside El Mercado, a Mexican restaurant in downtown Austin near the TDA offices, according to the affidavit. Williams went through an alley to take the money to the TDA headquarters before returning to the car and collecting Vinson for a scheduled meeting at the offices.

The affidavit says the license-seeker learned later that month that he was not guaranteed a license, despite the scheme that had been proposed to him. He reached Smith via phone, who “denied any knowledge but did admit to receiving a $5,000.00 gift from" the middle man, according to the allegations.

The hemp licenses were opened as a result of House Bill 1325, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in 2019 and allowed the state's farmers to legally grow industrial hemp. Hemp is a cousin of the marijuana plant that contains low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive element in marijuana known as THC.

Smith has previously been under scrutiny for blurring campaign and official lines. The Austin American-Statesman reported in 2018 that Smith told a San Antonio businessman he could get a TDA appointment if he donated to Miller's campaign — then Smith asked the businessman for a $29,000 personal loan.

Years earlier, Miller created four new assistant commissioner positions and gave one of them to Smith's wife, Kellie Housewright-Smith. The positions had annual salaries exceeding $180,000, making them among the highest-paid employees at the TDA.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/05/07/sid-miller-todd-smith/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst arrested on domestic violence charge

"Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst arrested on domestic violence charge" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has been arrested and accused of domestic violence.

Dewhurst was arrested Tuesday evening in Dallas, according to Dallas police. He faces a misdemeanor charge of family violence.

Dewhurst was arrested after police responded to a disturbance at an address near Dallas Love Field Airport and met with a woman who said she had been assaulted by a male acquaintance, police said. Officers identified the man as Dewhurst, 75, and took him into custody.

Dewhurst was released from jail early Wednesday morning after posting a $1,000 bond, according to records from the Dallas County Sheriff's Department.

Dallas police said the Public Integrity Unit will investigate the incident.

Dewhurst was lieutenant governor from 2003-15. He unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2012, losing to Ted Cruz, and lost reelection as lieutenant governor in 2014 when Dan Patrick beat him in the Republican primary runoff.

Dewhurst's personal life made headlines last year, when his girlfriend was arrested twice, accused of kicking him and breaking two of his ribs in one of the cases. A grand jury decided not to indict her in connection with the first incident, according to KPRC-TV. Last week, charges were dropped in the second case, which involved the girlfriend allegedly throwing candle wax at him.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/14/david-dewhurst-arrest/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas GOP congressional candidate loses prominent supporters after racist comment about Chinese immigrants

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A Republican candidate in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, is facing intense backlash and has lost two of her biggest supporters after saying she does not want Chinese immigrants in the United States.

The comments by Sery Kim, a Korean American who served in the Small Business Administration under President Donald Trump, prompted California U.S. Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel to rescind their endorsements of her on Friday. Young Kim and Steel are the first Korean American GOP women to serve in Congress.

“We cannot in good conscience continue to support her candidacy," the lawmakers said in a statement.

The candidate has been unapologetic, however, arguing that she was speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party and blaming the "liberal media" for the uproar. She said she "will not back down from speaking the truth" about the party.

Sery Kim made the anti-Chinese remarks earlier this week at a GOP forum in Arlington while responding to a question about U.S. immigration issues.

“I don't want them here at all," Kim said of potential Chinese immigrants. “They steal our intellectual property, they give us coronavirus, they don't hold themselves accountable."

“And quite frankly, I can say that because I'm Korean," she added.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased since the coronavirus pandemic started in China. Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the pandemic and called the coronavirus "the Chinese virus." Kim's remark came less than a month after the Atlanta spa shootings that killed eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent.

The comments have received condemnation from groups including the DFW Asian-American Citizens Council and AAPI Progressive Action, which works to build political power around Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Kim is one of 11 Republicans — and 23 candidates total — on the May 1 ballot to fill the GOP-leaning seat seat of Wright, who died earlier this year after being hospitalized with coronavirus.

Young Kim and Steel endorsed Sery Kim early on in the race, about a week after the filing deadline last month.

In their statement pulling their endorsements, the two lawmakers said they spoke Thursday with Sery Kim “about her hurtful and untrue comments about Chinese immigrants, and made clear that her comments were unacceptable."

“We urged her to apologize and clarify her remarks, especially as hate against the AAPI community is on the rise," the congresswomen said. “However, she has not publicly shown remorse, and her words were contrary to what we stand for."

Asked for a comment on the loss of the endorsements, Kim provided a statement that said: "I am shocked that in an effort to counter Asian-American hate the liberal media is targeting me, an Asian and an immigrant, in an effort to paint me as anti-Asian and anti-immigrant just for speaking against the oppressive Chinese Communist Party."

In the statement, Sery Kim went on to call the Chinese Communist Party the "foremost threat to the free world." She said she has received more "death threats and racist comments" since the forum controversy than she has in her entire life, and that the voters of the 6th District deserve "someone who will fight for them — who will literally put their life on the line for them."

Until this week, Sery Kim was not a particularly well-known candidate in the special election. The Republican field also features Wright's widow, GOP activist Susan Wright, as well as state Rep. Jake Ellzey of Waxahachie.

On the Democratic side, at least one contender, Lydia Bean, pushed back on Sery Kim's forum comments, saying they target people like her Chinese American husband, Norman, and their 10-month-old son. Norman's parents came to the United States from China in 1966, Bean said.

"This type of speech, no matter who it comes from puts their lives in danger," Bean, a 2020 Texas House candidate, tweeted Thursday. "It's racist, and it's not who we are in Texas."

Early voting for the special election starts April 19.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/03/sery-kim-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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